Jellyfish-Inspired Microchip Captures Cancer Cells

Researchers have developed a microfluidic chip coated in DNA to capture cancer cells

2 min read
Jellyfish-Inspired Microchip Captures Cancer Cells

 

   The mesmerizing movements of jellyfish have inspired researchers to design all sorts of things, from mechatronic jellyfish that function as autonomous robots to artificial jellyfish built from rat cells and silicone. Now scientists have built a jellyfish-inspired microchip that can capture cancer and other rare cells in human blood.

A jellyfish captures floating food particles with its long tentacles, which are equipped with repeating patterns of sticky structures. Researchers at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston used that design concept to build a microfluidic chip coated with long strands of repeating DNA sequences that bind to specific proteins on cancer cells as they float by in the blood.

Capturing cancer cells in the blood stream can provide key information about how a tumor is responding to treatment, and a device like the jellyfish chip could be used not only in diagnosing and monitoring cancer, but also for capturing other rare cells in the blood, such as fetal cells, viruses and bacteria, the researchers reported yesterday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy Sciences.

Other microfluidic devices that rely on antibodies or engineered nucleic acids have been developed in the past with a similar intent, but have failed to capture large entities in the blood, such as whole cells. The new jellyfish-like device can grab those cells, and more of them. The key was making the three-dimensional DNA strands long, like tentacles, and arranging them in a herringbone pattern inspired by the repeating patterns of sticky structures on the jellyfish. And unlike previous methods, the device can also easily release the cells so that they can be studied in the lab.

In addition to diagnostic applications, the device could also be used therapeutically. "What most people don't realize is that it is the metastasis that kills, not the primary tumor," says Jeffrey Karp, an author of the paper and a bioengineer at Brigham. "Our device has the potential to catch these cells in the act with its 'tentacles' before they may seed a new tumor in a distant organ."

Go jellyfish. Maybe researchers should spend more time at the aquarium staring at these hypnotic marine animals.

Image: Brigham and Women's Hospital

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This CAD Program Can Design New Organisms

Genetic engineers have a powerful new tool to write and edit DNA code

11 min read
A photo showing machinery in a lab

Foundries such as the Edinburgh Genome Foundry assemble fragments of synthetic DNA and send them to labs for testing in cells.

Edinburgh Genome Foundry, University of Edinburgh

In the next decade, medical science may finally advance cures for some of the most complex diseases that plague humanity. Many diseases are caused by mutations in the human genome, which can either be inherited from our parents (such as in cystic fibrosis), or acquired during life, such as most types of cancer. For some of these conditions, medical researchers have identified the exact mutations that lead to disease; but in many more, they're still seeking answers. And without understanding the cause of a problem, it's pretty tough to find a cure.

We believe that a key enabling technology in this quest is a computer-aided design (CAD) program for genome editing, which our organization is launching this week at the Genome Project-write (GP-write) conference.

With this CAD program, medical researchers will be able to quickly design hundreds of different genomes with any combination of mutations and send the genetic code to a company that manufactures strings of DNA. Those fragments of synthesized DNA can then be sent to a foundry for assembly, and finally to a lab where the designed genomes can be tested in cells. Based on how the cells grow, researchers can use the CAD program to iterate with a new batch of redesigned genomes, sharing data for collaborative efforts. Enabling fast redesign of thousands of variants can only be achieved through automation; at that scale, researchers just might identify the combinations of mutations that are causing genetic diseases. This is the first critical R&D step toward finding cures.

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